I avoided discomfort for most of my life. Now I’m learning to sit in it–to walk through it, not around it–but I still had the idea that discomfort would only come in waves. Ebb and flow. Easy then hard, then easy then hard. Like life was like a carousel moving slowly with the scenery changing from good to bad.
It seemed like people take their turns, you know? That their seasons are marked with Joy or Pain, one or the other. It looks like that, when you’re a child because you hear about the Big Things but adults don’t really talk to you about all the constants. And it looks like that as an adult because we compare a lot and comparing makes everything seem big and black and white and one way or the other.
I’m finally learning, since I can’t escape it anymore, that discomfort is there all the time. Of course it comes in differing degrees but pain is pain and so we learn to do something with it. Something. Anything.
Boredom. Fatigue. Irritation. Impatience. Loud. Endless repetitive tasks.
Over the past seven years our family has had our share of Big Things, too. What I’m learning about myself now is that I’m capable of sitting with those, walking through what’s required of me to stand up and keep going and support the people I love. I’m good at big messes. I’m good during tragedy. I rise up. I’ve known for a long time that the smaller things are what have a better chance of beating me. I have a tendency to bow to them. To act like the daily grind is trying to kill me.
I’m going through these uncomfortable physical changes that brought on depression and anxiety and weird other symptoms and one of them is itchy skin. My hands have broken out in some sort of exzema that won’t go away no matter what I do. My hands itch and then split, my skin a minefield of little tiny cuts. Pretty much anytime I straighten my fingers or open wide my hands, I feel another rip and look to see another red crack.
So often I turn my hands over to look at them and I think of Ellie, my sister-friend with cancer and how much she’s going through. Not only does this give me perspective, but it also comforts me to know how full of grace she is. She is the kind of person that says “Pain is pain. I’m sorry your hands are driving you crazy.” It also makes me smile to think of her when looking at my hands because before we knew of her cancer and before all the things I’ve been going through, many of which I haven’t mentioned here, we had this joke: Death by a million paper cuts. Because sometimes that’s what life feels like.
I feel like I have a million paper cuts, and I’m not just talking about my hands.
Yesterday I thought a lot about drinking. The way that it would cause that click in my head that changed my brain funk. I was so addicted to that feeling. Now I know I was self medicating, because postpartum or not, tubal ligation symptoms or not, hormonal or not, I’m an alcoholic. I would pass the click and lose sight of the off switch and binge. Sometimes I still can’t believe it, that I’m the “A” word, and those are the times that I still want it so much and I still can’t believe I haven’t had it in so long because I can taste it and smell it and see the legs on the glass and hear the glug of the bottle and I salivate. Then my addict brain goes all on its own to thinking of fun and easy times, of feeling more at ease and getting the damn hamster off the wheel in my head. It tells me that I was more fun with a couple of glasses of wine and it tells me that I had the best conversations over a bottle or two with a friend. It tells me that life is hard and wine helps. It tells me that I need a buffer, a break, something. Anything.
I don’t fall for the tricks because I know better, but it’s hard. It’s hard to be in recovery and it’s hard to be in life, so much of the time, when depression and anxiety are trying to paper cut you and keep you in your own head and scare you when you think about your friend with cancer or the other big things. I’m a creative soul and a part of me goes to sleep when there’s no time for goals outside of meeting the daily physical demands of my family. The sleeping part is sad.
So this is what it is to walk through even when you don’t feel so good. To just keep going because one day there will be more time and it will come so much faster than my addict brain would like to tell me. And this is what it means to know that you are not unhappy in your life even when you feel unhappy.
Yesterday I was driving to Target for diapers and I didn’t feel like it at all. I didn’t feel like doing anything but babies need diapers and so off we went. On the way home I made a choice. This will not be like the drive here, I said to me, because the drive there was a hamster wheel drive. And I chose to think about the seriously beautiful weather and the sounds that Elsie was making. I reached behind me and to her and waved my fingers like a little white flag and then I felt her soft little hand grab tight to my pointer like she was never going to let go and she made the happiest sound, like she does any time she isn’t touching me and then is again. Joy swelled.
This is my something. My anything. Everything. I sit in discomfort and see that I am being given life by a million tiny gifts, even when all I can see and feel are the paper cuts. The carousel is turning ’round and now I see that it isn’t slowly moving from Pain to Joy, it is always both and it’s fast like a blur with the most beautiful colors and if we just stay on, the miracle is that we move past going in circles and on to new places. The best places we couldn’t have dreamt up no matter how many hours we spent on the hamster wheel. So yeah, sometimes life is like death by a million paper cuts for our growth. It has to be, or we just go ’round and ’round.